TREA: The ENLISTED ASSN
NEWS FOR THE ENLISTED
FOR OCTOBER 19, 2012
Again, this has been a week where more political events and stories are occurring outside of DC instead of here in DC. It is coming to the final push for the Presidential, Senate and House campaigns. (Not to mention many local elections throughout the country) But Washington is still humming.
1) Next Year’s COLA Will Be 1.7%
On Tuesday the Social Security Administration (SSA) announced that next year’s Cost-of-living-Adjustment (COLA) will be 1.7% While SSA calculates the COLA to adjust Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) numerous other federal payments are also increased by this amount. This includes military retired pay, SBP, DIC, Disability Payments and more. It will also affect monthly Medicare payments Part B and TRICARE Prime enrollment fees for retirees under the age of 65.
It is better than the recent 3 years when there was no COLA but it is still a small percentage. You can read more of how it is calculated by going to www.socialsecurity.gov/cola
Stars & Stripesthis week asked the campaigns of the two major parties’ candidates for President of the United States where they stand on a variety of issues important to TREA: The Enlisted Association, and all veterans and military retirees. Here are ½ of their unedited answers. (Next week’s Update will have the second half of the questions and responses.
This question was only for President Obama: On defense spending, what is the President’s response to Republican attacks that his proposed defense cuts go too far? Is war time the right time to be making such dramatic strategic shifts and budget trims?
President Obama: Over the past four years, President Obama has made historic investments in our armed forces. He’s made it clear that as long as he is Commander-in-Chief, we’re going to remain the strongest military in the world. We will stay the best-trained, best-led, and best-equipped military in history.
It’s important to remember that the Budget Control Act passed with broad bipartisan support in Congress. And after 2013, the Budget Control Act does not cut defense spending. Instead it slows the rate of growth.
As we turn the page on a decade of war, our nation is at a moment of transition. Three years ago, we had almost 180,000 troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. We have cut that number in half. And as the transition in Afghanistan moves forward our troops will continue to come home.
We cannot afford to repeat the mistakes that were made in the past — after World War II, after Vietnam — when our military was left ill prepared for the future. President Obama has pledged that he will not let that happen again. That’s why he worked in consultation with our military leaders to develop a comprehensive defense strategy, released this year, to guide our priorities and spending over the coming decade. The strategy was adopted with the full support of our senior military leaders, who have said that it maintains the United States as the strongest military in the world.
As we end today’s wars, President Obama has made it clear that we will focus on a broader range of challenges and opportunities, including the security and prosperity of the Asia Pacific. We will invest in capabilities to combat the full-range of threats. Our military will be leaner, but the United States will maintain our military superiority with armed forces that are agile, flexible, and ready for the full range of contingencies and threats.
This question was only for Governor Romney: On defense spending, what is Gov. Romney’s target for the size/growth of the Defense Department budget? Where would he make cuts? If the military budget grows, where would he make spending trims to offset those costs?
Governor Romney: Gov. Romney will reverse Obama-era defense cuts back to the FY 2011 baseline established by Secretary Bob Gates in 2010, with the goal of setting core defense spending — meaning funds devoted to the fundamental military components of personnel, operations and maintenance, procurement, and research and development — at a floor of 4 percent of GDP. Both President Obama’s former Defense Secretary Bob Gates and former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen both supported a 4 percent of GDP benchmark for defense spending. We spend a little over that number now between war and military costs. As war costs come down, Gov. Romney will reverse defense cuts and bring the “base” defense budget up. With it, he will build a larger navy and add more troops to the force. He believes that a strong military is our best insurance against conflict, and will build a military that is second to none so that no adversary will ever think of challenging it.
President Obama: why were you unable to do more to avoid the threat of sequestration and its effects on the defense budget, and what would Governor Romney do to avoid the problem of sequestration and its effects on the defense budget?
President Obama: The President has been clear — no one wants these cuts to happen.
Bipartisan majorities of Congress voted for the sequestration mechanism. And we all know that, if the sequester goes into effect, it will mean across-the-board cuts in programs that affect a lot of people. However, the sequester explicitly exempts funding for The Department of Veterans Affairs, a point that was made clear in the White House’s Congressionally-mandated report as to what the impact of the sequester would be.
The sequester was designed to force Congress to take action — which is why, to avoid these cuts, Congress needs to get back to work and agree to a balanced approach to reduce the deficit and keep our military strong.
To lead in this effort, President Obama has put forward a balanced plan to get our fiscal house in order over the long run, one that reduces our deficit by more than $4 trillion over 10 years while replacing the sequester. It is a balanced plan that includes $2.50 in spending reductions for every $1 in additional revenue, but it would keep annual defense spending at the levels agreed to with Congress last year that would be in place in the absence of sequestration.
Yet Republicans refuse to ask the wealthiest to pay a single penny more, putting defense spending at risk. That is the only obstacle to preventing this sequester and achieving real deficit reduction. It’s time for Congress to stop playing politics with our military.
Governor Romney: Unfortunately, sequestration takes effect on Jan. 2, a few weeks before the inauguration. If it goes into effect, Gov. Romney will stop and reverse the devastating impact of those cuts. If sequester is avoided, Gov. Romney will move to reverse other Obama-era cuts that total $487 billion over ten years.
What does President Obama see as the ideal end strength for each of the military services? Are the recent proposed cuts to the defense department jeopardizing the strength of the force by cutting those personnel numbers too far?
President Obama believes we don’t have to choose between protecting our nation’s security and being fiscally responsible. He has worked with our military and civilian leadership to ensure our budget decisions are driven by strategy, and not the other way around. The force strengths in the defense strategy are supported by our nation’s military and civilian leadership, including Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.
For eight years, the previous administration put two wars on a credit card — which helped turn record budget surpluses into record deficits. With the tide of war receding, the administration has developed a strategy to prepare for challenges of the coming decades, while ensuring we maintain our unchallenged military superiority with armed forces that are flexible and ready for the full range of contingencies and threats.
Do you support another base closure round, even after the opposition of many lawmakers and local officials?
President Obama: The President has made it clear that he does not believe now is the time for BRAC. The new defense strategy does not call for that.
Governor Romney: Gov. Romney absolutely opposes another round of base closures, and opposed President Obama’s request for two more rounds of base closures in his last budget. In a volatile world and with troops in harm’s way, Gov. Romney believes in a military well prepared for any eventuality and strong enough to deter crisis and conflict. With that in mind, the Pentagon must do a better job taking care that taxpayer dollars are well-spent. Gov. Romney will find efficiencies throughout the Department of Defense budget that can be reinvested into the force. The Department’s bureaucracy is bloated to the point of dysfunction and is ripe for being pared. In the years since 2000, the Pentagon’s civilian staff grew by 20 percent while our active duty fighting force grew by only 3.4 percent. That imbalance needs to be rectified. The Pentagon’s procurement process must also be streamlined and made more efficient. The measures Gov. Romney will take include establishing clear lines of authority and accountability for each weapons system so they remain on time and on budget. He will institute shorter design and delivery cycles for weapons systems to eliminate the current practice of over-relying on yet-to-be-developed technologies, which creates delays and cost overruns. This will foster more realistic planning, get equipment into the field at a faster pace, and save the cost of having to keep older weapons systems in circulation. He will institute greater competition at all levels of the procurement process. And he will work with Congress to pass budgets on time — something the Obama administration has habitually failed to do — to allow the Department of Defense and defense contractors to properly plan multi-year projects without delay and disruption. These and other reforms will ensure a functioning procurement system that redirects savings into the defense of our nation.
Pentagon planners have repeatedly endorsed plans to increase Tricare fees for military retirees. Do you support this idea, even with the intense opposition from veterans groups?
President Obama: The President is committed to making sure that our service members, veterans and military families receive the highest quality health care we can offer. He has made this a priority since day one, and that’s why we’ve funded veterans’ health care a full year in advance to prevent political gridlock in Washington from hurting our those who have given so much to this country.
But as the cost of health care rises, benefit programs must be restructured in order to remain solvent. We have to do things now to make sure that we can sustain the system. Defense health care costs have grown from $19 billion in 2001 to over $50 billion in 2012. There has not been an adjustment in Tricare premiums since 1995. There is bipartisan recognition — including from Republicans like Senator Lindsay Graham — that the drastically increasing cost of military health care needs to be addressed.
President Obama has made it clear that any Tricare premium increases will be based on military retirement income level. Even after these modest increases, though, the cost borne by military retirees under Tricare will remain dramatically lower than most comparable private sector plans. In many cases, it will remain less than half the cost of comparable private sector or government employee health care plans.
Governor Romney: President Obama proposed raising Tricare fees on a military that has spent 10 years at war, while increasing federal spending nearly everywhere else. Gov. Romney will put the troops first — not last — in his budget priorities.
What is President Obama’s opinion on the role of women in combat? Is the Defense Department working quickly enough to open new battlefield positions to them?
President Obama: Under President Obama’s leadership, the Department of Defense in February announced policy changes that allowed military women — particularly soldiers — to see more than 14,000 new job or assignment opportunities. The changes were based in part on findings the Military Leadership Diversity Commission reported to Congress.
The report published in February included a “vision statement”: “The Department of Defense is committed to removing all barriers that would prevent service members from rising to the highest level of responsibility that their talents and capabilities warrant.”
The President supports these policy reforms, and is proud to have opened new possibilities to women in our military.
Governor Romney: Gov. Romney recognizes that women serve in many vital roles in theater, and that over 100 women have made the ultimate sacrifice in the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. He believes women have the capacity to serve in our military in positions of significance and responsibility, as they do throughout our society. Gov. Romney would look to the military commanders to give their best assessment of where women can serve and wants to ensure that women have the same opportunity to excel as their male counterparts.
The Army plans go cut its force by 11 percent – that’s 60,000 soldiers -- within the next four years. The Marine Corps will cut 5,000 Marines each year for the next four years. How to accomplish those goals while maintaining a quality force and being fair to those who have sacrificed and given so many years of their lives to the service of the nation is a difficult and tricky assignment.
TERA is the Army’s attempt to deal with the issue.
TERA was used during past drawdowns, the last one ending in 2002, to give early retirement to qualified members of the Armed Services as a way of reducing the force but also being fair to those members who had served at least 15 years of service but were in jeopardy of being involuntarily separated and ending up with nothing to show for all those years of service.
The opportunity to retire under this TERA program is expected to end by December 31, 2018.
According to the Army, Soldiers with at least 15 but less than 20 years of service may be eligible for early retirement. While TERA will apply to both officers and enlisted, our focus here is on the enlisted force. Noncommissioned officers denied continued service as a result of an approved qualitative service program centralized selection board are eligible for the program.
According to the Army News Service, "Soldiers who elect to retire under TERA and are approved, will receive full retirement benefits at a slightly reduced annuity," said Gerald Purcell, the enlisted personnel policy integrator with Army G-1. He emphasized that TERA is not an entitlement.
The TERA is one of the tools the Army is using to reduce the force in the coming years, said Purcell. He said the reduction affects active-status Soldiers serving in the active and reserve components.
The Army has reduced the force before. But the force drawdown in the 1990s, for instance, was much different than the most current effort, said Albert Eggerton, the deputy chief of the officer division with Army G-1.
"Now, the Army is making the call on who stays and the programs are different," Eggerton said.
Purcell said a priority with the latest drawdown is precision, care and compassion.
"Our goal to do this in a compassionate, caring way, and ensure Soldiers and their families are taken care of during the transition," Purcell said.
The qualitative selection board is tasked with identifying NCOs, by military occupational specialties and pay grade, who are excess to the future force structure mission requirements of the Army, Purcell said.
"We (then) tell the selection board to rank the Soldiers (with their peers) based on potential future contributions," Purcell said. "Those identified would be quality Soldiers we'd otherwise retain, but because their grades and skills are excess to the Army's needs, we have to let them go."
Purcell said Soldiers will know when they have been selected for involuntary separation and that they have about a year to request TERA.
"TERA is a good thing for Soldiers to take if they have already been identified for involuntary separation," he said, explaining that the involuntary separation bonus would not have the value of early retirement in terms of pay and benefits.
Eggerton and Purcell agreed that TERA is good news for Soldiers who otherwise would receive less under involuntary separation.
The Marine Corps does not plan to use involuntary separations as a way of dealing with the reductions. Instead, competition to re-enlist will become much more competitive. If fact, although 70 percent of Marines have seen combat, combat experience will not guarantee re-enlistment.
The Marines Corps believes its promotion system will find the best Marines and keep them in while filtering out those who are less than “superstars.”
On Wednesday, October 17, TREA met with John Moran, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Department of Labor’s (DOL) VETS program, Brian Ketz, Military Fellow & the acting Chief of Staff of VETS, and Timothy A. Green, Director of Strategic Outreach and Legislative Affairs at VETS. TREA: The Enlisted Association was represented at the meeting by Deputy Legislative Director Mike Saunders.
Secretary Moran wanted to reach out to the Veteran Service Organization community to communicate that DOL’s “One-Stop” centers, where unemployed Americans can go to get career services help such as resume-writing and job interview tips, would be known from now on as “American Job Centers.” Further, he said that the staff at American Job Centers that were funded specifically by his program, Disabled Veteran Outreach Program Specialists, or DVOPS, and Local Veterans Employment Representatives (LVERs), would be audited from now on so that DOL can be sure that these employment specialists are serving veterans in the way that Congress intended when they created the program.
Secretary Moran went on to say that he had a 4-point strategy for making improvements to the VETS program. First was to institute a Department of Defense-Department of Labor (DOD-DOL) data-sharing program so that DOL knew what veterans were leaving the service and heading back to their local communities. This does not currently exist, and it impedes efforts to get the services that American Job Centers provide to veterans that need it the most.
Second, he wants to create a “Single Portal for jobs.” Anybody who has searched for a job recently knows that there are probably thousands of different places to look on the internet for job postings. While some are geared towards veterans, the multitude of them makes it very hard to know where to start, or even which ones are legitimate. There are even some that charge veterans a percentage of their salary as a head-hunting fee. DOL aims to put the scam job boards out of business while partnering with legitimate ones to connect veterans with rewarding careers. TREA will work with DOL on this effort to ensure that the concerns of unemployed veterans are being met.
Third, DOL/VETS has an “enhanced outreach” strategy centered around
Meeting with service members one year before they separate from the service, at the time they make the decision not to re-enlist.
Giving them paperwork about the programs available at the Transition Assistance Program (TAP), roughly 90 days before they separate from the service,
Contacting them again WHEN the service member leaves the service, and
After DOL gets the veterans’ contact info from DOD, calling the service member 70 days after they leave the service to see if they want to utilize the programs available through DOL/VETS.
Finally, Secretary Moran said that the American Job Centers were cognizant of the needs that 1.5 million returning service men and women were going to be needing in the next five years as they attempt to reintegrate into society and find jobs, and were moving to meet the challenge.
However, TREA: The Enlisted Association is concerned that the DOL/VETS personnel may not be trained in a manner that meets the needs America’s veterans. Concerns regarding veterans with non-service connected disabilities, for whom gaining employment in and of itself may bring added challenges that even service-connected disabled vets don’t face, were raised at the meeting. Further, it isn’t clear that VETS/DOL personnel know how to navigate the VA system in order to get veterans into programs that complement employment training, such as housing and/or healthcare.
The meeting was productive, and TREA plans to follow up to make sure that some of our concerns are being addressed.
For more information, visit:
This week Dr. S. Ward Casscells died of prostate cancer at the age of 60. Doctor Casscells was a renowned heart surgeon in Houston TX when he decided that he needed to do more for the country. So in 2005 at the age of 54 he joined the Army Reserves. After convincing the Army to allow him to join his first assignment was to develop a response to avian flu. He then served in Iraq where he performed surgery, served as medical liaison to Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the top U.S. military commander in the country, and the U.S. ambassador and worked help build an Iraqi medical community. This was followed by his appointment in 2007 as Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs.
He took that post just when the scandal concerning conditions as the old Army Walter Reed Medical Center broke. In that and many other matters Dr. Casscells was a open and honest communicator with TREA: the Enlisted Association and other VSO and MSO representatives. Dr. Jonathan Woodson, the present Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs, issued the following statement: “There was no greater advocate for the value that military medicine provides this nation than Dr. Casscells. Dr. Casscells was relentless in working to make our system more open, more transparent and more accessible to the Service members, military families and retirees who use it.”
He will be truly missed.
If you need to change the email address that receives the Legislative Update, go to: http://www.capwiz.com/trea/mlm/verify/
At the bottom of the page, enter the email address that currently receives the update, verify who you are, and change your email address. If you have any problems email email@example.com
Continue to send emails to your Senators and Representatives about the bills that are of interest to you. Remember we have prepared emails available for you.
If you do not receive the Legislative Update delivered to your email box, click the above link, and sign up!
Don’t forget to "Tell A Friend” about our Legislative Updates, GoodSearch & GoodShop.